Mind. Blown.

Never underestimate the power of students and their ideas

Published May 6, 2017

The 10th Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival drew big crowds, despite cool and rainy weather. Parking lots and exhibits were crowded as tens of thousands came to experience nearly 400 exhibits in science, technology, engineering, fine arts and mathematics, including student research projects and displays organized by campus clubs.

In the Gordon Field House, mechanical engineering students Bailey Reid and Zack Rizzolo, members of the RIT Launch Initiative team, displayed a series of high power model rockets, simulating how this equipment is developed for organizations such as NASA and the Department of Defense. Later this year, the group intends to launch its 10-foot rocket, Lazarus 1, more than 13,000 feet into the air and break the sound barrier.

“These just might be some of the fastest vehicles built by RIT students,” Rizzolo said.

An attendee looks through an RIT-branded virtual reality device.

Festivalgoers were able to transport into a different realm – augmented and virtual reality – by strapping on a VR headset. They were immersed in a virtual horror experience or could play chess on a board that floated in front their eyes and moved where their eyes moved.

Both Reid, a third-year student from Lockport, N.Y., and Rizzolo, a fourth-year student from Avon, N.Y., are certified to design, build and launch rockets such as those on display by the National Association of Rocketry.

Nearby was a driving simulator, in which participants sat in the front half of a Kia automobile, viewing a wide screen showing simulations of road hazards such as oncoming trucks and road crews.

The simulator is part of a larger research project by Martin Gordon, associate professor of mechanical engineering in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology. Ken Bach, a fourth-year mechanical engineering technology major from Canastota, N.Y., did much of the design work on the remodeled vehicle, which is also designed to accommodate hearing, hard-of-hearing and deaf drivers to gather data about how technology might help prevent situations related to distracted driving.

Visitors stood in line to get a glimpse of the always-popular Theme Park Engineering exhibit, which this year was even bigger, sprawling across most of one end of the Gordon Field House.

The exhibit featured 38 twirling, swirling replicas of actual amusement park rides, including two rides that were interactive and a virtual reality roller coaster experience.

“I had to do it up big for my senior year,” said David Swerzenski, who is graduating this month with a degree in mechanical engineering. The Oak Ridge, N.J., native co-founded RIT’s Theme Park Enthusiasts Club which puts the exhibit together, and he owns most of the thousands of pieces that went into building the display.

Club president Robert Cybulski, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major from Lancaster, Pa., said setup began Thursday morning and took the team almost two full days. He wasn’t sure how long it would take to disassemble their creation.

Design and creation

Creative exhibits inside and outside the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences drew steady crowds throughout the day. On display was photography, filmmaking, glassblowing, typography, figure drawing and new media design, among others. Visitors stopped to listen to music performances by a cappella group Eight Beat Measure, the RIT Pep Band and other groups.

While one Imagine RIT exhibit about tiny homes highlighted a big housing trend, another demonstrated the ability to hop into the driver’s seat of a “house” and go. For her senior capstone project, Melissa Schmidt, a fourth-year industrial design major from Meriden, Conn., is planning to convert a 1986 International school bus bought on eBay – affectionately known as “Penny” – into a full-time, five-speed house.

“We’ll be raising the roof, insulating it, and using solar power and propane appliances,” Schmidt said. “We intend to move around as much as possible.”

Schmidt, along with Derek Roche, of Scranton, Pa., a 2016 furniture design graduate of the School for American Crafts, and Matthew Gibson, a fourth-year electrical engineering major from Pittsburgh, said the project is meant “to inspire our generation that it is possible to invest in something that you can bring with you rather than planting your roots somewhere. We want to show people that you can build your own place to live with your own hands.”

Going green

Throngs of people were walking the floors of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability – part of the “Green Place” zone during the festival – discovering how researchers at RIT and the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute are converting waste into energy and what it means to be sustainable. Visitors ventured through a wide array of interactive activities, crafts and exhibits inside the building known as a “living lab” and across the quad at Louise M. Slaughter Hall, home of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies.

On the fourth floor of GIS, digital manufacturing techniques created an Imagine RIT souvenir coin, complete with a festival attendee’s profile machined onto it. Engineers and students took pictures of visitor faces and digitally converted them into personalized souvenirs.

Waiting on line to get their coins, the Shetler family, of Rochester, talked of the importance of recycling and caring for the environment.

“We enjoy the sustainability exhibits and the growing (green) wall,” said Rodney Shetler ’07 (information technology), who was joined by his wife, Song, and two children, Avia and Igby. “We have to care for our planet. It’s so important that we do.”

A student rides a double-stacked bike during the festival.

A student rides a double-stacked bike during the festival.

In the “Which is Better?” exhibit, sustainability students demonstrated how everyday products compare when considered from an environmental perspective. Are efficient LED lights more economical? Is paper or plastic bags better for the environment?

Students showed how raw material extraction, manufacturing, packaging, product use, and waste management all add up when considering environmental impacts of products used daily.

Another exhibit showed innovative sustainable technologies such as printable solar cells and how they take advantage of indoor lighting to provide electricity, as well as a 3D-printed model of an offshore wind energy harvesting system that was developed as part of the applied entrepreneurship course at RIT.

Meanwhile, an intricate RIT campus model that took 6,048 hours to build by Master of Architecture students at GIS showed campus buildings with amazing detail and topography. The model enabled visitors to understand the characteristics of campus buildings and view the whole campus at one time. It also demonstrated the outstanding hand modeling skill of the architecture students.

A booth staffed by the College of Liberal Arts and RIT University/Community Partnerships showed visitors the initiatives it does to promote sustainable community change in Rochester’s neighborhoods while deepening the educational experience for RIT students.

One project involves a community garden in Rochester, where students and faculty members work with neighborhood residents to plant, cultivate and harvest fresh vegetables. Another project involves finding productive uses for vacant lots in Rochester. Children visiting their booth were asked to draw what they’d like to see in vacant lots; submissions included an animal shelter, a swimming pool, a trampoline, rainbows and sunshine.

Lucian Proctor, 5, of Henrietta, used crayons to draw a tree and a smiling owl.

“Thank you for drawing such an awesome picture,” said Sarah Dobie, a third-year environmental sustainability, health and safety major from Webster, N.Y., as she handed Lucian a free water bottle and a piece of candy.

“He loves it here. He loves everything science,” said his parent, Cezanne Enriquez.

President Destler’s Health Innovation Challenge

Prior to the official opening of the festival, RIT President Bill Destler hosted the Health Innovation Challenge. The event, held in Clark Gym, featured 17 student-led exhibits, each rooted in the health care arena with the potential to improve lives. A panel of judges selected the winners who competed for a top prize of either $1,000 cash or an antique banjo from Destler’s private collection.

Taking first place was startup company DADco, which hopes to bring electromyography into the consumer marketplace with the creation of smartwatches and smart wristbands that monitor muscle movements to accomplish different tasks.

Team members are Daniel Berg, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student from Dunkirk, N.Y.; Tre DiPassio, a fourth-year electrical engineering student from Rochester, N.Y.; John Grosh, a fourth-year computer science student from Lancaster, Pa.; and Colin Fausnaught, a third-year software engineering student from Williamsport, Pa.

“We gain solid feedback from each entrepreneurship competition that we participate in,” said DiPassio. “Imagine RIT was the first time we actually had a working prototype to showcase, so winning first place was a validation of our ideas.”

The DADco project has special meaning for Fausnaught.

“A good friend of mine is living with ALS, so this is even more incentive to get this project up and running,” he said. “We are working on this for him and so many other people living with debilitating diseases.”

The team selected an 1892 banjo as their prize.

“We’re all huge music lovers, and we all sing for RIT’s Brick City Singers group,” said Grosh. “So, it was great to be offered the chance to select the banjo.”

Student wearing an electronic tremor device on his arm.

Second place, and $1,000, was awarded to the Semi-active Wearable Tremor Mitigation team, which hopes to create a working prototype for a device that can be worn on a person’s arm to decrease the intensity of essential tremor.

Third place and $500 went to GAIA, a team that developed a shirt that assesses athletic performance by gathering biometric data such as heart rate and muscular output in real time.

And fourth place and $250 went to the team that developed Overcomer, an adaptive fitness system that allows users with physical disabilities to engage in fitness and recreation such as soccer, hockey and baseball. The Al Sigl Community of Agencies sponsored the third- and fourth-place prizes.

Future college students wowed

Tweens at this year’s festival were amazed by BAGMAG, an innovative solution to attaching a skateboard to a backpack for storage. The Hans Kohl and Wade Kellard, students supported by RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and the creators of BAGMAG, say their magnetic device is all about convenience for the rider. With a flip of the wrist – and a specially-designed magnet to hold the weight of a skateboard, longboard or snowboard – boarders will enjoy the quick transition from riding to walking.

A magnet, designed with the weight of the object in mind, is attached to the bottom of the skateboard, with another magnet affixed to the inside of the backpack. The team is also working to develop technology to insulate the magnets to prevent damaging electronic devices also stored in the backpack.

“We’re getting some great feedback from the visitors at Imagine RIT today and we’re hoping to even get some advance orders,” said Kellard, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student from Cincinnati. “People may initially think that this is just a simple magnet. While the concept may seem simple, there is a lot of work and thought that goes into creating a product that is safe and functional.”

The team recently won first place in NTID’s Next Big Idea entrepreneurship competition, sponsored by ZVRS.

Kohl, a fourth-year industrial design student from Quincy, Mass., says the team has plans to patent their idea and develop the product for use with camping, hiking and medical equipment.

The collaboration of imaging science and motion picture students was also on display at the Movie Wizardry through Virtual Cinematography exhibit, which represented the back-end of a virtual movie studio. Students in the Freshman Imaging Project designed and built a motion-capture system that translates the movements of an actual actor into a virtual movie studio complete with virtual lights and cameras within the animated space.

An exhibitor demonstrates their virtual cinematography capture space.

An exhibitor demonstrates their virtual cinematography capture space.

A student actor in suit studded with motion markers performed within a large capture space. Six cameras attached to the outer frame tracked the actor’s gestures. Cameron Calandra, first-year motion picture science major from Lockport, N.Y., took his turn in the suit to demonstrate the real-time motion capture system and discovered a hidden theatrical flair.

“I’m having a blast,” Calandra said.

The Freshman Imaging Project brings together first-year students in the two programs housed in the College of Science and the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. Each year Joe Pow, associate director in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, and David Long, program chair of motion picture science, present their new cohort with an imaging conundrum.

Festivalgoers were able to transport into a different realm – augmented and virtual reality – by strapping on a VR headset. They were immersed in a virtual horror experience or could play chess on a board that floated in front their eyes and moved where their eyes moved.

“I like virtual reality because you are able to create things that aren’t really there, make them realistic and then show them to people,” said Ethan Mendez, 14, of Irondequoit, N.Y., who came to Imagine RIT as part of a school trip. “Looking at all this stuff makes me want to go to school here. Plus, I like tigers.”

“Someday, I definitely want to become a computer programmer and make robots and all the other cool stuff I saw here,” said Xander Palmer, 13, also from Irondequoit.

Sarathi Hansen, a computer science graduate student from South Fallsburg, N.Y., and Jaben McCormack, a fifth-year computer science student from Manhattan, want to make things just for the fun of it and created the “Sight: A VR Horror Experience” exhibit as part of an independent study class.

“We decided to make an experience where you see scary things and hear spooky sounds, all from the comfort of your seat,” said McCormack, who graduates in May and already accepted a job at HubSpot in Boston. “It was fun because we had never gotten the chance to create a virtual reality project before. We definitely learned a lot.”

Children who have often been told not to swordfight play had the opportunity to bear arms with members of RIT’s Fencing Club while their families and a crowd of onlookers watched from an upper deck viewing area at the Gordon Field House. Dylan Smith of Bronx, N.Y., a third-year electrical engineering student, and Joanna Ye from Queens, a freshman in software engineering, said the 50-plus members of the RIT club enjoy the competitiveness of the intercollegiate sport.

Next year’s Imagine RIT festival will be April 28, 2018.

Includes reporting by Scott Bureau, Michelle Cometa, Susan Gawlowicz, Rich Kiley, Marcia Morphy, Vienna McGrain, and Ellen Rosen.